PhD project: Municipal Environmental Impact 

Municipal policymakers are today challenged to achieve a range of global, national and local policy objectives in several societal areas. In Sweden, for example, there are sixteen Environmental Quality Objectives defined by the government. The complexity faced by municipalities in prioritizing environmental measures is demonstrated by the Environmental Plan of Gothenburg, which suggests 212 measures to address twelve of the government’s environmental objectives. The selection and execution of effective measures is, however, often hampered by an insufficient understanding of linkages between the objectives to be achieved and the various measures that could be adopted. As a result, municipalities seek better practical guidance on how to reach their objectives. This is especially relevant with regards to mitigating the environmental impacts of consumption, which are mostly indirect and invisible to the consumer, yet may have global environmental consequences.

Urban Metabolism

The project therefore aims to develop and apply a new method, Municipal Environmental Impact (MEI), to assess the effectiveness and potential to reach environmental targets of different consumption-related measures implemented at the municipal level, including environmental trade-offs. 

Why a new method?

This project aims to make it easier for municipalities to see the indirect environmental impact of consumption within their borders and choose effective measures to reach their targets. Intended users are practitioners from municipalities and regions; primarily on the strategic level, but also in the municipal departments having relevant operational responsibilities. Municipal representatives will be actively involved in the development of the MEI method to ensure that it meets the practical needs and interests of municipalities. 

How to develop the method

The method will be developed through combining the methods of Material Flow Analysis (MFA) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to identify products and sectors with high environmental impacts within the municipalities’ metabolism. MFA is a systematic assessment of the accumulated stocks and flows of materials (products) over time and space within a defined system, in this case a municipality.  Using transport, trade, production, and waste data to perform MFA, we can estimate the consumption of products within an area.  LCA is a tool used to quantify the environmental impact of a product through all stages in its life cycle, from the “cradle” (e.g., resource extraction, production) to “grave” (e.g., disposal). By linking these two tools, we can estimate the environmental impact of consumption.  A methodology to quantify what effect municipal measures have on material flow data will also be developed.

Research Questions 

The research questions this project aims to answer are: 

What are the product groups, sectors and functions that should be prioritized due to high environmental impacts in the municipalities’ metabolism? 

To what extent can municipalities influence environmental impacts from consumption of resources and products?

Which measures are most effective and/or have the highest potential to reduce environmental impacts from production and consumption and to reach local environmental targets?

Project members

  • Alexandra Westin

    Alexandra Westin is a doctoral student in the Division of Water Environment Technology, research group Urban Metabolism at Chalmers University of Technology. 

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Hanna Ljungkvist

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute

Felipe Oliveira

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute

Rafael Laurenti

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute

Yuliya Kalmykova

Associate Professor, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Water Environment Technology. Director Urban Metabolism Research Group, Chalmers University of Technology. 

Leonardo Rosado

Post doctoral position, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Water Environment Technology, Chalmers University of Technology.